Morgan Stanley investment banker James A. Runde discusses his book on emotional intelligence.
Many professionals have been plugging away at their careers for years with only moderate success. Despite being good at what they do, they haven’t been able to achieve their desired level of income or career advancement. Why? Perhaps they lack the right soft skills. That’s the ida behind the book Unequaled: Tips for Building a Successful Career Through Emotional Intelligence, written by former Morgan Stanley investment banker James A. Runde. He says emotional intelligence — often referred to as one’s EQ, a take-off on IQ — is the key to success. Runde explained more during a recent interview on the [email protected] show, part of Wharton Business Radio on SiriusXM channel 111
[email protected]: Some people are great workers but, for some reason, are not able to put it all together to have that phenomenal career. I’m guessing you’ve seen a few cases of this in the course of your professional career, correct?
Runde: That’s exactly right. During the course of my 40-plus years at Morgan Stanley, I sat through thousands of promotion decisions for people moving up, and the No. 1 stumbling block was one of three things. Either they weren’t adaptable, they were not good at collaborating or they didn’t click with clients. In other words, they could not create empathy with clients. The three key words in terms of emotional intelligence for me are adaptability, collegiality and empathy. What I found was that EQ was the secret sauce to career success.
[email protected]: Explain emotional intelligence.
Runde: I think an easy way to look at it is that there are cognitive skills, there’s work ethic and then there’s this third dimension of soft skills or emotional intelligence. Cognitive skills and work ethic are very easy to measure. Emotional intelligence is more difficult to measure.
In my experience, the professional service firms, the banks, the law firms, the accounting firms and the consulting firms don’t do a good job at the front end in terms of screening for emotional intelligence. What they do is they screen for cognitive skills, grade point average and work ethic, and they figure that over time they’ll sort out who’s got the soft skills to succeed. But unfortunately, those people, when they start out, don’t realize that the soft skills are going to be the differentiators. At the front end, in the beginning, it’s adaptability. Over time it becomes much more about networking and team building and bringing in business, and that requires clients to like you and to trust you, which has nothing to do with your cognitive skills.
[email protected]: In this book, you break down careers into the early portion and the back half of the career. The early part deals with kind of that build up that you’re referring to, and the back half is more about dealing with the clients and being perceived as somebody that can really get the job done.
Runde: That’s correct. In the early phases of people’s career, the very first thing is adapting from the academic world to the business world. In the academic world, the teacher has the answer and is there to help you. In the business world, the boss is expecting you to come up with answer and you’re expected to help the boss, so everything’s turned on its head.
“What I found was that EQ was the secret sauce to career success.”
Some people have trouble making that first adjustment, they keep expecting their boss to give them the answer or give them a job description. Over time, people need to learn not only about dealing with bosses but dealing with different kinds of projects, juggling projects, finding mentors — finding sponsors. There’s a difference. And that’s just to get them to the next level, which is they’re good in terms of processing business that other people bring in these different categories of professional service firms.
Now they need to make another shift, another pivot, because now they’re not trying to keep their boss happy, they’re trying to find clients and bring in business and keep clients happy. Completely different set of soft skills.
[email protected]: Many would say that the second half of the career ends up being as important as the first half. With the first half, you’re learning so much. But there’s almost an expectation that once you get to the second half, you have to have all of those first-half skills in place or else your value to the company goes down.
Runde: That’s correct. But also, you can’t be in the office and doing your own spreadsheets, and out on the road bringing in business at the same time, so you also need to delegate and train and develop the junior people underneath you so that they can be doing the details, the deadlines and the data to give you the leverage to go out and bring in the business.
[email protected]: In terms of the early part of a career, you say that if you aren’t a team player and you complain a good bit, that’s going to really hurt your career.
Runde: It’s almost like kindergarten. Works and plays well with others. There’s a terrific book called Wisdom of Crowds in which the basic point is that all of us are smarter than any one of us. The person who thinks in this complex, fast-paced, global world that they can do the business and bring in the business all by themselves is setting themselves up for failure. The big firms don’t want a lone wolf. They want a team player.
[email protected]: You mentioned those three “Ds” that you bring up in the book: deadlines, details and data. How much has the data part overtaken the other two because of this digital world that we live in?
Runde: There’s no question that data is like a firehose. When I first started the business, we only had one computer and data entry was by punch cards, if you even know what those are. Things have changed a lot, and now clients and customers have access to the same data as anybody else.
With virtual reality, artificial intelligence and big data, the trick now is to find a way to turn data into insight. Clients want custom-tailored insight. They already have the data. They’ve got too much data, so the way you add value today is you create insight. The example I give in the book is you take a piece of information, you put it in context of what’s going on with the client, you do some quantitative analysis, and then you add some judgment. The combination of those factors turns information into insight, and that’s what clients want.
“The big firms don’t want a lone wolf. They want a team player.”
[email protected]: Most people don’t have these soft skills coming out of college. I would think that now it should be something they are developing while in school because they have to hit the ground running when they come into the real world.
Runde: It would be great if they did develop them in school, but